Inside AT&T's "throttling" plan: How to make "unlimited" data use anything but

Inside AT&T's "throttling" plan: How to make "unlimited" data use anything but


If you thought it was out of vogue to be in the 1 percent these days, you're only sort of right — it's the 5 percenters who are really feeling the heat.

The top five percenters in data usage, that is.

As smartphones become more and more advanced and the selection of apps becomes more and more populous — spanning everything from monetizing fitness to making confession — data usage has become a burden to mobile networks. Although many mobile phone companies advertise "unlimited data plans," the reality is anything but.

Some carriers — including AT&T — have eliminated the "unlimited" option altogether, and have ironically decided to limit their top 5 percent of data users by cutting into data speeds.

Perhaps most annoying, this solution means keeping users within their data limitations by slowing down their phones. Your maps won't load, web pages take longer and catching up on the Grammys via YouTube is nearly impossible. Think of it like pumping prepaid gas, except exceptionally more annoying.

The cuts can affect some 17 million users who signed up for unlimited data plans with AT&T, or almost half of its users. (AT&T stopped offering "unlimited" plans in 2010, but users who signed unlimited plans before then are grandfathered in.)

And many users are reportedly experiencing the cuts — called "throttling," seriously — after they've consumed less data than is offered via AT&T's limited, tiered plans. How's that make sense? For some perspective, the top 5 percenters consume about 2 gigabytes of data each month. T-Mobile doesn't throttle its users until they've consumed 5 gigs, and AT&T offers a limited plan that allows 3 gigs of consumption per month.

And not all AT&T users get throttled. Only the top users in areas where the network is congested (aka major metropolises) are affected.

By contrast, Verizon doesn't slow down its top data users unless their particular cell tower is congested, and it only slows them down minimally. When AT&T decides to throttle a phone, it's slow for the remainder of the billing cycle.

Basically AT&T, is in serious need of some population control. The network simply can't support the technology. Tell us: Would you sooner switch carriers, or switch phones?